Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook (September 16, 1865 – September 1, 1935), founder of the World Central Yeshiva and the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, is considered one of the fathers of Religious Zionism.
Maran Harav Kook immigrated to Israel in 1904 during the Second Aliya and served as chief rabbi of the Jaffa community.
After the First World War, he was appointed Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem in 1919. He later established the Chief Rabbinate and was elected to serve as the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel (1904-1935).
Maran Harav Kook was considered a genius in the Torah world, a halachic authority, and one of the most important Torah scholars of his generation, a luminary in both Halachah and Aggada, revealed and hidden alike. He was also an expert in Jewish and non-Jewish literature and well versed in modern philosophy. In his various works he demonstrates his unique and graceful writing style.
Maran Harav Kook devoted tremendous spiritual energies to writing and speaking, in order to unite those who had returned to the land as one nation. He recorded many of his deep innermost thoughts in his books in the “Light” series. Orot HaTeshuva, Orot HaRav, Orot HaKodesh, the Book of Lights and other great works that are still being published today. These books discuss all subjects of the Torah: Halachah and Aggadah, revealed and esoteric, and have a tremendous impact on the thousands who thirst to delve into his Torah.
Another project that began at the initiative of Maran Harav Kook are the Halacha Berurah and Beirur Halacha centers.
Rabbi Kook said regarding this project, that this is his contribution towards establishing Torah for all time.
Halacha Berurah is the study of the Gemara, together with the halachic writings of Rambam and the Shulchan Aruch on the issues being discussed.
Beirur Halacha is the focused, concise study of Talmudic sugyot – issues – while clarifying the rationale of all commentators and Poskim on the issue at hand, from the early Rishonim to the last of the Acharonim.
Rav Kook passed away on the 3rd of Elul 5635 (1935).
Rabbi Kook was born in the town of Grieba in the Doynsk district of Latvia to his father Rabbi Shlomo Zalman and his mother Pearl Zalta (Palman). As a child, he was educated by his father who was a misnaged, but was connected with Chabad chassidim from his mother’s community (her father Raphael Palman was close with the Tzemach Tzedek). Following his Bar Mitzvah, he studied in nearby towns: with Rabbi Eliezer Don Yichya and Rabbi Yaakov Rabinowitz Blotzin; the Rabbi of Dvinsk, Rabbi Reuven Halevi Levin; and the Rabbi of Smorgon, Rabbi Noah Chaim Avraham Shapiro and his sons-in-law Rabbi Tanchum Gershon Bilitsky and Rabbi Menashe Yosef Ginsberg.
Before Maran Rabbi Kook reached the age of twenty, he was ordained by Rabbi Yechiel Michel Halevi Epstein, the author of the “Aruch Hashulchan.” In 1884, he married Alta Bat-Sheva, the daughter of the Rabbi of Mir and Ponevezh, and later of Jerusalem, Rabbi Eliyahu David Rabinowitz Teumim (the Aderet).
After his engagement, he studied for about a year and a half at the Volozhin Yeshiva, headed by Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin (the Netziv), whom he later considered his primary teacher. Before coming to Volozhin, he studied with his friend Rabbi Gershon Tanchum of Minsk; author of “Eilena D’chai.”
In 1888, he was appointed Rabbi of Zimmel in Lithuania, where he learned with one of the greatest mekabalim of his time, Harav Shlomo Elyashiv, the Leshem. At this time his first wife passed away, leaving him with his one and half year old daughter Frieda Chana. After about a year he married Rise Rivka, the cousin of his first wife, and the daughter of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Rabinowitz Teomim (the twin brother of the Aderet), from whom Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook was born in Nissan (1891).
In 1895, he was chosen as rabbi of Boisk, where he began publishing his ideas on “Hepeles.” In Boisk, his daughter Batya Miriam was born (1899), who would one day marry Rabbi Shalom Natan Raanan.
Chief Rabbi in Jaffa
When the people of Jaffa approached Rav Kook for the position of Chief Rabbi, Rav Kook rushed to realize his dream of moving to Israel. Despite the attempts of the wealthy members of the Boisk community to persuade him to stay, Rav Kook came to Israel in 1904 and was immediately appointed Rabbi of Jaffa and the new settlements. The Jaffa period was his most prolific writing period, although these works were only published much later. Among them: Orot, Orot HaKodesh, and the Olat Re’eyah.
At the same time he established the “Tachkemoni” school which combined religious and secular studies. He connected with the leaders of the workers’ movement and supported the agricultural settlement. Due to the great poverty of the Yishuv Hachadash, Rabbi Kook relied on Heter Mechira, which Rabbis Yitzchak Elchanan Spector (Rabbi of Kovna) and Rabbi Shmuel Mohliber (Rabbi of Bialystok) had created to prevent the collapse of the farming communities. Rabbi Kook expanded on the heter and its halachic basis in his book “Shabbat of the Land”, although he viewed this as only a temporary solution. The Chief Rabbis following him did the same at every Shemita cycle, each time re-examining the need and rationale to use the heter.
In Jaffa he set up a yeshiva that was small and numbered less than two minyanim of students, among them Rabbi Yehoshua Kaniel, Rabbi of Haifa. The yeshiva was located on the upper floor of the Sha’arei Torah Talmud Torah in the Beit Haknesset, while in the second part of the day, the students worked and earned the Sha’arei Torah workshop that was founded next to the yeshiva by Rabbi Avraham Berachot and named after him. It was a two-wing structure, and his apartment was in the second floor, and the other wing was where he learned and had his Beit Din. That was the yeshiva, on 21 Achva St., Tel Aviv- Jaffa.
World War I period
In 1914, he went to the Agudat Israel World Conference in Switzerland because he wanted to encourage them to embrace Zionism, and after a month he got stuck in St. Glenn due to the outbreak of World War I. He was offered a great deal by the London religious community, and he accepted on the condition that he would be able to return to Jaffa as soon as possible. While in London he set up a number of yeshivot and influenced the British government not to deport Russian Jews who had fled. He also fought with religious Englishmen, who were against the Zionist movement and tried to influence the British administration not to give the Balfour Declaration. Following the disclosure of Rabbi Kook in the synagogues, many memoranda were sent that the Jewish religion was linked to Israeli nationalism and Israel, which influenced the publication of the declaration.
After a period of about three years in London after the war ended, the RA returned to Eretz Israel, and after the heads of institutions and yeshivas and most of the rabbis of Jerusalem signed an appointment letter, he was appointed to Jerusalem in 1919 and held an office that had been orphaned for several years. He later established the Chief Rabbinate Institution, which saw the first phase of the Sanhedrin founding, and became the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel in 1921. He saw the Chief Rabbinate as a worldwide spiritual leadership rather than a bureaucratic apparatus.
Jerusalem flag movement
From then on, until his death, he wrote very few machshava works and focused on writing Halacha Berura on the Shas, as well as working for the community. From that time he was also fighting with the Mizrachi movement, complaining that it was not strict enough in terms of Halacha and Hanhaga, nor comprehensive enough in it s aspirations.
In 1918, after 15 years of political activity, he sought to establish the Jerusalem Flag movement which would incorporate all Torah observant Jews who identified with the Zionist movement.
His wish was that this movement would be incorporate members of both the Agudat Israel movement and the Mizrachi people, based on the idea that the Jewish people are divinely connected to the Land of Israel. With the help of his close students – Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Charlap, Rabbi David HaKohen, and his son Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, branches were established in Israel, Switzerland, the Netherlands, England and the United States. The movement was not successful and disappeared very quickly from the Zionist political landscape. The movement was mainly base on his charismatic personality, and in order for it to succeed, Maran Rabbi Kook had to stay in Western Europe.
Rabbi Kook’s desire to return to Israel, inability or lack of desire to deal with founding a political movement, and the opposition of other religious parties sabotaged the new movement.
The Mercaz Harav Yeshiva
The Mercaz Harav Yeshiva was founded in Rabbi Kook’s house, where Rabbi Kook lived for the rest of his life, located between Jaffa and Hanevim st. , not far from the Bikur Cholim Hospital.
After the yeshiva’s expansion under his son’s leadership, the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva moved to the Kiryat Moshe neighborhood of Jerusalem.
In 1924, he founded the Mercaz Harav yeshiva in Jerusalem, with the main innovations being that the classes were in Hebrew language, and Machshava was part of the curriculum. The goal was bring in the best students from all over the world, who excel in their abilities and manner … to return the crown [to Israel] in her old age, complete the Torah of the Land of Israel and resurrect the holiness of the Holy Land. “
The yeshiva was like a large family, and Rabbi Kook treated everyone like a father. Sometimes, with his wife’s assistance, he even took care of his students material needs. Rabbi Kook encouraged his yeshiva graduates and pushed them to serve the community as rabbis, teachers and public figures.
Working for Every Yeshiva
Since he viewed yeshivot as the spiritual center of the Jewish people and established Torah educational institutions everywhere, he prioritized supporting other yeshivot, as well as his own. In 1924, he traveled to the United States at the head of a rabbinical delegation consisting of the Rabbi of Kovno, Rabbi Avraham Dov Kahana Shapiro, and Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Epstein, head of the Slobodka Yeshiva, in order to obtain funding for their Torah institutions. While he was there, he also received an honorary citizenship of New York City.
During this period, he began to write Halacha Berura and spent much time working on it. Later that year, Machon Halacha Berura was established, where a committee of torah scholars continue his work. The Halacha Berura is still active, and has already completed its work on most of the mesechtot.
As a public figure, he protested the actions and decisions of the British, and made clear his firm position against the British Mandate government in Israel. He opposed the agreement made by the heads of the Zionist movement to relinquish ownership of the Western Wall and receive only the right of prayer at the site, saying, “God forbid we give up the Kotel, we did not receive a power of attorney from Israel.
When the news of the Chevron massacre reached Maran Harav Kook on Shabbat, August 24th, 1929, he ran with Yitzchak Ben Tzvi to meet with Harry Luke, the acting British High Commissioner, urging him to take action and protect the Jews of Chevron. He demanded the High Commissioner shoot the murderers, “in the name of humanity’s moral conscience.”
During the 1840 British inquiry, he said, “an English king once translated our Psalms into English, and now under English rule, our Psalms are being burned in our most holy place.”
The Arlozorov Murder
After the murder of Chaim Arlozorov, the head of the Jewish Agency’s Political Department, Rabbi Kook made it his mission to defend the accused persons, Abba Ahimeir, head of the Revisionist Zionists (the Brit Habiryonim), and his deputy, Avraham Stavsky. Rabbi Kook spoke out strongly for the accused and turned public opinion around, ensuring that justice was ultimately served.
A week before Pesach, Maran Harav experienced pain in his internal organs. Even though he was in great pain, he ignored it during Passover, so as not to ruin the Simcha chag. He gladly welcomed all his many visitors who came to greet him, and astonished his listeners with chidushim on Halacha and Aggada, so that his anguish was not at all apparent.
About two months before his passing, doctors recognized his condition as fatal. They advised him to move to a clinic on Gat Street in Kiryat Moshe, so that he would not continue to be inundated with questions and requests.
Maran Harav Kook Ascends
On Sunday morning, the third of Elul, his conditioned badly deteriorated. His body weakened greatly, and several times his heart stopped.
Around noon, Maran Harav understood that his situation was fatal, and asked his only son, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, to attend him at his beside. He spoke to his son for a few moments in a low voice, saying that he might owe someone some money, and to pay off his debts. He also told him that if he printed any of his work, to not add any additional titles to his name beside for “rabbi.”
All afternoon, rabbanim didn’t leave his room. Grief was visible on their faces. At five o’clock they saw the signs of dying. Everyone gathered at his beside to say the prayer, and Maran Harav flipped over to face the crowd. When they arrived at “Shema Yisrael” at 5:15 pm, he opened his eyes and joined in to proclaim “One,” and at that moment he passed away.
When the news spread, thousands of people flocked to the Kiryat Moshe Medical Center. Stores closed down for the day. In Tel Aviv, people tore their clothes and went on the street in mourning. A telegram was sent to the 19th Zionist Congress, which in those days convened in Europe, “Rabbi Kook is gone.”
He was eulogized by Dr. Weitzman,
Rabbi Meir Bar Ilan, and Menachem Ussishkin, who announced that a community in Israel would be soon be established in his name.
Fifty to one hundred thousand people attended his funeral. All over the country, work was suspended from the time the funeral started – Monday at noon. Since then, there has never been a funeral to compare. A quarter of all Jewish residents in Israel accompanied Moran Harav to his grave on the Mount of Olives.
Rabbi Kook died at the age of seventy, on Sunday, September 1, 1935, in the medical center in Kiryat Moshe, and was laid to rest forever on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.
He was survived by his two daughters, Rabbanit Frida Rabinowitz (wife of Rabbi Benjamin Rabinowitz) and Rabbanit Batya Ra’anan (wife of Rabbi Natan Ra’anan) and one son, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, his spiritual successor.
In His Memory
The Kfar Horeh Moshav in Emek Chefer was named after Rabbi Kook. His student Rabbi Moshe Tzvi Neria founded the first Bnei Akiva yeshiva there, and wrote many books in his memory, including the Talmud of Rabbi Kook and the Life of Rav Kook.
After his passing, his home was preserved as the Rav Kook Museum.
Rabbi Yehuda Leib established a publishing house and religious research center in his memory, ‘The Mosad Harav Kook’. There are many Harav Kook streets named after him, in Jerusalem, Ramat Gan, and all over the country.